Minimally destructive detection of magnetically trapped atoms using frequency-synthesized light

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M. Kohenen, P.G. Petrov, R.A. Nyman, E.A. Hinds


New Journal of Physics, 13 (2011)

We present a technique for atomic density measurements by the off-resonant phase shift induced on a two-frequency, coherently synthesized light beam. We have used this scheme to measure the column density of a magnetically trapped atom cloud and to monitor oscillations of the cloud in real time by making over a hundred non-destructive local density measurements. For measurements using pulses of 104–105 photons lasting ~10 μs, the precision is limited by statistics of the photons and the photodiode avalanche. We explore the relationship between measurement precision and the unwanted loss of atoms from the trap and introduce a figure of merit that characterizes it. This method can be used to probe the density of a Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC) with minimal disturbance of its phase.